How can we prepare for the business landscape of the future? If you had said a decade ago that startups like Uber and Airbnb would completely disrupt traditional industries like accommodation and transportation, no one would have believed you. Yet that is exactly what happened as incumbents discovered they lacked the innovation culture and customer focus needed to respond.
The next ten years promise more of the same, with more uncertainty, new players and emerging technologies on the horizon. Steering organizations through this environment is now the mandate for company leaders and executives; success will depend on being able to quickly adapt to digital challenges and new customer expectations.
At ESCP Business School, providing students with the tools and knowledge to lead companies in changing times is central to the mission of inspiring and educating tomorrow’s executives and business leaders. To help ESCP Europe connect its students with the latest digital trends and technologies in global innovation hubs, Silicon Valley Innovation Center designed a custom nine-day immersion program in Silicon Valley for a cohort of over 80 ESCP students.
The company visits and meetings in the program centered around key concepts for the leaders of tomorrow:
- Digital transformation & the future of business
- Digital marketing & customer centricity
- Startup engagement and growth
The program allowed the students to completely immerse themselves in the innovation ecosystem and connect with tech giants like Amazon and Google and startups like DocuSign and Udemy, incubation platforms and faculty from fintech and entrepreneurship programs at UC Berkeley. This article presents the key learnings from the ESCP group’s immersion in the digital transformation and customer centricity spaces, with the third area of exploration – startup engagement – to be covered in an upcoming article.
Digital transformation in the fourth industrial revolution
To set the scene for ESCP’s program, a presentation by Silicon Valley Innovation Center’s CEO brought the students up to speed with the startup ecosystem and the tech company mindset companies are transitioning to in the age of disruption. The group learned about successful companies in Silicon Valley and what it takes to become a winner in the tech industry.
“An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
Jack Welch, Former CEO of General Electric
The topics of the SVIC session were addressed again later at UC Berkeley. After a guided tour of the campus, the ESCP Europe group attended a presentation by a Haas School of Business lecturer on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the period of intense transformation and disruption we are now living through.
Like the First Industrial Revolution, (which mechanized production), the Second (which enabled mass production) and the Third (which allowed the automation of production), this revolution will completely change the way we work and live, with rapidly growing trends and technologies like big data, analytics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles and AI set to define it.
While the full extent of Industry 4.0 – as it is also called – cannot be known, the waves of disruption already experienced across all industries has shown that becoming a tech company is certainly the right step in a company’s transformation for the digital future.
At a time when companies are either “tech or dead” and it is said that “software is eating the world”, embracing new technologies and digital transformation is vital to resist disruption in a changing industry. The session at Berkeley included exercises for the students to analyze the transformation of companies like Delta Airlines, General Electric, UPS and Amazon from traditional businesses in air travel, postal services and retail to software companies specialized in their particular sector.
The group later attended a presentation by Adobe and gained a first-hand account of digital transformation in an established organization. Adobe has become a case study of digital adoption, with a strategy that included switching to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, offering a subscription-based service and completely transitioning to cloud. The students not only had the chance to learn about the application of emerging technologies for digital transformation, but also about marketing tools to grow a brand. The session was of great interest to the students, with one of the ESCP coordinators commenting: “Excellent content for marketing, very useful and the speaker was phenomenal.”
The group also gained insight from the transformation journey of hardware-based company Cisco. Founded in 1984, Cisco Systems grew significantly 1980s and 1990s as a manufacturer and seller of computer and telecommunication equipment. In recent years, however, their awareness of value in software services and the possibilities in future waves of disruption led the company to reimagine its business and implement several digital transformation initiatives. These have included a significant transformation of the workforce, with the digitization of cloud services, technical services and security which has boosted employee productivity and resulted in a 35% increase in supply chain productivity.
The ESCP group heard about Cisco’s innovation services offering as well as its investments in early-stage companies. They also gained valuable insight into marketing and project management strategies that they can apply themselves.
Key takeaways: virtually all industries today can be disrupted, so companies need a digital transformation strategy based on technology and software to grow and remain relevant in the years to come. There are valuable lessons in the successful transformation journeys of established companies, in particular with regard to process digitization and adoption of new business models, cloud-based systems and technology in AI, big data and IoT.
Digital marketing and customer centricity
“Achieving customer centricity is no longer a differentiator. In the digital age it has become a matter of survival.”
KPMG, Customer First Report
New players have been able to capture market segments quickly and without the scale and infrastructure of incumbents. A central part of their growth has been their ability to recognize the expectations of consumers for rich digital experiences and thus offer simple services through seamless interfaces and easy-to-use apps. Today, adopting a customer-centric business approach has become a central part of the digital transformation journey of established organizations.
During their program in Silicon Valley, the ESCP cohort learned about the marketing strategies of Google and Amazon as well as of electronic signature unicorn DocuSign.
Marketing lessons from tech giants
Participants further satisfied their curiosity for innovative products and project management strategies in sessions with Amazon and Cisco. The group was eager to learn from Amazon and the session was the ideal setting to hear about the company’s marketing strategy, project management practices and its approach to competition with other businesses.
“If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon
Later, they learned valuable lessons from the experience of DocuSign, a leading eSignature platform and “unicorn”, navigating digital transformation and adapting to customer needs.
Founded in San Francisco in 2003 and with a current valuation of $4.5 billion, DocuSign initially centered around its digital signature service, accessible on the web and an app. By 2014, however, the company’s marketing leadership had noticed how companies in industries like agriculture were bringing in developers to build their own software systems, which also demanded signatures.
DocuSign then took a new, developer-oriented approach, and enabled integrated functionality for customers while offering free trials for developers who could then become paying clients. Today, the company offers “a simple electronic signature integration, a full digital workflow transformation, or anything in between” and services business from industries as varied as accommodation, insurance, education and food services.
At DocuSign, the ESCP group was not only able to ask about the company’s products – such as the legal status of eSignatures and applications in fraud prevention – but also learn how DocuSign was able to tailor its business to potential clients from different spheres, especially those distant to the tech industry and cloud services.
Key takeaways: offering users seamless digital experiences through different channels has become hugely influential. While startups have thrived on their understanding of changes in customer behavior, successful digital branding and user engagement can help established companies better serve their customer base and attract new clients.
Lessons for the business leaders of tomorrow
Over the course of their custom immersive program in Silicon Valley, Master’s students from ESCP connected with major trends set to shape the business landscape of the future. They took key lessons from the digital transformation experience of established companies like Cisco and Adobe, and took away valuable insight from the digital branding leadership at Google.
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